The uniquely spectacular Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg: "An outstanding project the likes of which will never happen again in the city"

Laura Latham
Elbphilharmonie is a unique residential development in Hamburg’s spectacular new concert venue

It’s hard to describe the appeal of Hamburg. It isn’t as picturesque as Munich, nor as cool as Berlin. Instead it’s quietly confident, relaxed, comfortable with its role as Germany’s second largest city, a hub for commerce and industry. One of Europe’s most important ports, Hamburg is located on the River Elbe and the city centre is crossed by waterways that belie its business-like atmosphere. Ornate neo-Renaissance buildings stand alongside 19th-century warehouses and post-war office blocks that offer a testament to the city’s industrial heritage.

More recently, Hamburg’s authorities have commissioned a number of new, iconic structures, such as the twin Dancing Towers and the rhomboid-shaped Docklands building on the waterfront of the hip Hafencity district. However, set to rival both as a landmark is the new Elbphilharmonie, a spectacular development that will combine high art and high-level residences. “The Elbphilharmonie is unique,” says Frank Schmidt, director of Quantum Immobilien, which is developing the site. “It’s probably the most interesting project in Hamburg and an opportunity for the city to become better known abroad.”

The foundation for the development is Kaispeicher, a historically important warehouse on the Hafencity waterfront that had fallen into disuse and become dilapidated. Though it only dates back to the 1960s, the site was designed by architect Werner Kallmorgen and replaced a 19th century warehouse that was destroyed in the Second World War.

Its protected status meant the brick building couldn’t be demolished, so the only option was to redevelop the site. A plan was hatched to add 18 storeys and turn the vast space into a showcase concert hall and mixed-use residential scheme that would put Hamburg on the cultural map. Among iconic buildings, the Elbphilharmonie stands out. Designed by Swiss ‘starchitects’ Herzog and de Meuron, the brick structure of the old warehouse has been enhanced by an exterior of steel and glass, with a roof designed as wave-like peaks. Interspersed along the facade are a series of portholes that, on closer inspection, are actually terraces with curved glass-fronts that mimic the shape of tuning forks. The interior will comprise a 2,650-seat concert venue, a hotel and spa, several restaurants and public spaces, plus 45 sleek apartments on floors 11 to 26. The residential units measure 120sqm to 400sqm and cost from €6.5m to €11m – 40 per cent have already sold, mainly to German buyers.

“The Elbphilharmonie currently represents the top of the market in Hamburg,” says Philip Bonhoeffer of local estate agency Engel and Völkers. “There is nothing to compare with it, it’s an outstanding project and its like will never happen again in the city.”

Hafencity is often compared to London’s Docklands. The district is still developing and the plan is to create a thriving modern environment of homes, shops and leisure outlets among the factories and ship yards, with the Elbphilharmonie as its cultural anchor. Elbphilharmonie residents will have uninterrupted views of the wide Elbe river, and the smoking stacks and night-time lights of the city’s industrial heartland. “It’s a big view,” says Kate Hume, the designer responsible for the relaxed chic of the project’s interiors. “It’s ever-changing, mesmerising. To live here, you’ve got to love that view.”

Keen to inject the personality of the location into her work, Hume’s scheme reflects the external tones of the project’s harbourside location. Colours range from soft greys and aquas, to deep charcoals, blues and purples, shot through with elements of gilded glamour in the furnishings and art. The overall look and feel is one of edgy luxury. “Hafencity has its own vibe,” she says, “and the Elbphilharmonie is a place to experience metropolitan life.”

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